[Let’s Study] Adventures in Rokugan, Part 4: Backgrounds

Disclaimer: This Let’s Study series is made possible by the generosity of Edge Studio, who provided an advanced review copy of the PDF.

Rokugan is a massive setting, and nowhere is that more apparent than the Backgrounds section in AiR. In addition to the basic elements of a Background, Adventures in Rokugan goes deep into the lore to make sure that every Background is a meaningful one that is rooted in the lore and social context of the character.

The section is broken down into multiple backgrounds:

  • Great Clan
  • Minor Clan
  • Imperial
  • Ronin
  • Monastery
  • Commoners
  • Non-Rokugani
  • Non-Human

The Clans and the Imperials

Most of these backgrounds are further refined by picking a Family from within the Clan. This is the case with the Great Clans, as each of the major families have different specializations depending on their role in the Clan.

For each of the Great Clans, the section opens with a fairly comprehensive write up of the nature of the clan and their responsibilities to the empire. Much to my relief, there is also a section discussing the culture of each Clan highlighting their virtues and their philosophies. Each selection has Background Features, which present a baseline of knowledge and competence expected of anyone who grew up in with a particular Background as well as suggested Feats that would be common for a member of a particular Clan.

Each of the Families then give further details on Skill, Tool and Weapon Proficiency, Languages known and Equipment common to a member of a Family. Each family also has a Quick Build that can be used to approximate the schools that each of the Families excel at.

Commoners and Outsiders

For those under Monastery and Commoner backgrounds, they have their benefits as according to where they live. This means that Commoners who might be used to living in the seaside will do much better at getting around that locale than any well-dressed Samurai who lives in the steppes.

Perhaps the most interesting detail in this section are the Backgrounds for members of foreign nations. Adventures in Rokugan introduces the Backgrounds for several other civilizations which I’ll list here with the inspirations in parenthesis: the Ivory Kingdoms (India), the Qamarist Caliphate (The Middle East), The Plains of Wind and Stone (Mongolia and the Eurasian Steppe), Yún Fēng Guó (China), The Coastal Islands (Southeast Asia?) and Saebyuksan (Korea).

I’m glad to see the world of Rokugan expanding beyond just the Empire itself and I find myself hoping that the other sections get fleshed out in future supplements. Perhaps in a sister line like The Legend of the Burning Sands from the older edition of L5R?

What this does imply, however is that the writers of Adventures in Rokugan are willing to draw a bigger picture and bring this sort of adventure to other fantasy takes on underrepresented cultures, which can only be a good thing.


For Non-Human Backgrounds, the Naga, Nezumi and Tengu have Background options, whether by location or Tribe or Aerie. The rest, such as the Ghosts, Animal Yokai and the Mazoku have Backgrounds based on which other Spirit realm they hail from.

The Backgrounds section of the book fulfills my hopes for Adventures in Rokugan. As I mentioned over on Twitter before I got my hands on this PDF, “Rokugan deserves to thrive, but hopefully without giving up what makes it unique.” Adventures in Rokugan is able to at least present the breadth of Rokugan’s cultures, Species and cosmology in a way that makes it accessible as an entry-level product to those who aren’t familiar with L5R.

Next up, we’ll be skipping past the Equipment section, and go straight towards the other aspect that makes L5R unique: Motivations.

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